Vermont Votes for Kids: A project of the Vermont Secretary of State

Curriculum Grades 9-12, Student Handout for Lesson 1:
Ballots, Polls & Voting Booths


To cast a vote on an issue or for a candidate is to take a position; it is not to remain neutral. If you are similar to most others who have not yet voted due to age, the terms "ballot", "polling place" and "voting booth" are not unfamiliar. You have probably heard and read of these things in the news and in civics and history classes. However, you may not yet have a clear mental picture of what it would feel like to cast YOUR ballot, enter a polling place or step into the voting booth for the first time.

Few could imagine several decades ago that the nature of voting would change in so many ways. In so many ways but one: it is still a personal decision that takes a commitment and depends on YOU, on each citizen, to make democracy work. This role of the individual in renewing the marvel that began in our 1787 Constitution cannot be altered no matter how the process of voting changes.

This activity is intended to give you a clearer picture of what a ballot can look like, in the past and present. It will acquaint you with the variety of polling places and voting booths, in the U.S. and elsewhere. It is hoped that familiarization will lead you to be more comfortable with the election process and then to exercise your political right and vote as soon as you are 18 years old.

You will notice that we as a democracy have a common bond with many nations and people, which is the profoundly powerful desire and power to influence our futures through the act of voting. You will also encounter the changes to the voting process, all designed to make the act of voting more available and the results more reliable.

This activity is in two parts and employs both a visual investigation and a written analysis. Because of the page size, they are broken into two separate parts, below:


Examine pictures 1-10, images of various aspects of the voting process, then answer the questions that follow. Sharpen your focus; look for both details and the overall impression that each image conveys. The rhetorical questions next to the pictures are simply to help you examine the pictures more closely.

Image 1:

"Vote Here" is the message. Is it a command or an invitation that beckons you to participate in democracy? This is in an English-speaking nation, but which one? What time period do you think this is? Where? What clues do you notice?


Image 2:

Nisei voters in a U.S. internment camp for Japanese-Americans, 1942, during World War II. Notice the voting booth and the ballot box, as well as the age of the voters.


Image 3:

African-American woman boarding a bus to the polling place so she can vote in the 1970s. Notice her age. Who provided the bus?


Image 4:

Women in New York City march to obtain the right to vote in 1912, eight years before the 19th Amendment. Notice that most are dressed alike; why is that? Where are the men in the photo? How large is the crowd observing the parade?


Image 5:

Citizens in Sierra Leone answer the call and queue up to vote. If you didn't know the location, where might you think it is? What impressions are you left with as you examine the photo? What clues are there to help you compare this voting system to ours?


Image 6:

A woman in Poland is exercising her elective franchise in this century. Notice the ballot and the ballot box. Compare this to image 2.


Image 7:

Election Day at the polling place brings Americans together. Notice the voting technique compared to those in other images. Should these be called stations or booths? Notice the vertical dividers between voters.


Image 8:

Voting is an activity shared by all types of people, some requiring special accommodation. Some have temporary challenges attending a polling place; others have lifetime special needs.


Images 9 & 10:

Privacy lends reliability to the process and the results of voting. Voters' needs for privacy are accommodated.


Now, write a paper that explains what you discerned from the images by answering these questions. The answers should be one or two paragraphs in length for each letter below.

A.What do you observe about the differences between the various voting techniques in these images? Is there one way that seems better to you than the others in these images; e.g., are voting machines better than paper ballots and a box?
B.Do you notice anything that the people seem to have in common regardless of time period or location?
C.Does the process seem less formal than you thought it might be? How formal do you think it should be?
D.Can you find a common theme that flows through several images? Support your view with evidence from the pictures.
E.Were you surprised at anything you saw? Are there any new insights you have about voting, past or present, near or far from what you have seen?


Examine the images 11-26 of diverse voting mechanisms and vote counting machines, and then answer the questions that follow.

Image 11:

Among the earliest of voting tools, paper may be "low tech" but it still works.

Images 12, 13:

Lever machines were early among efforts to make voting less subject to ballot tampering. Machines with levers are not very common today.

Images 14, 15:

The punch card system involves a booth, the machine with guide and the ballot card itself. The voting tool (stylus) makes a hole next to your choice. The card is then fed into a card reader (see image 24). This method and its "chads" were made famous in the 2000 presidential election.


Images 16, 17, 18:

Most students are familiar with the "fill in the bubbles" form of testing, so this form is no stranger. Note again in image 17 the theme of safeguarding privacy (See images 25 & 26, the counting machines for this type). Image 18 reveals the "write in" option as well as numerous choices from among diverse political parties.


Image 19:

This ballot is similar to that in image 16 but with a variation that attempts to avoid counting errors resulting from incomplete marks in the ovals. The voter draws a solid line between the black marks to form an arrow (as in the two lines above the pencil.)

Images 20, 21, and 22:

This electronic machine allows you to touch the button next to your choice, shows your choices with lights and allows you to change your mind or correct an error before finalizing your ballot.


Image 23:

Have you seen similar devices at the shopping mall or the grocery store? This method is the latest in the evolution toward a more efficient and reliable voting process.


Images 24, 25, and 26:

These images display two methods to tabulate results from two different ballot types.


Now, applying your powers of observation, address the following questions using the evidence available in images 11-26. If this is a writing assignment, the answers should be one to two paragraphs in length for each letter.

A.What do images 11 through 23 have in common? Support with examples.
B.Which voting methods might have avoided the problems encountered in the year 2000 ballot controversy? Why?
C.Which method of voting would be most accommodating to persons with various physical challenges?
D.Which voting methods seem to be most efficient in terms of processing the largest number of voters at the polling station?
E.Which voting methods seem to be most reliable in terms of avoiding either voter mistakes or correction mistakes?
F.Voting by absentee ballot is gaining in popularity, so from these images, which method of voting would be most easily adapted to absentee voting while still remaining efficient and reliable?
G.From what you have seen in images 1 through 26, do you think we should keep the option for voters to choose voting at the polls or by absentee ballot? Why?
H. If we are to keep the option to vote by either absentee ballot or at the polls, what method or combination of methods, that you have seen, would be best?
I. If we could do it, would you like the option to vote via the Internet using either web site voting or an email ballot? What would be the advantages of this method? What concerns would you want addressed first?


Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz: